JIM LEHRER: And to Margaret Warner.
MARGARET WARNER: To assess Iraq's latest offers and the U.N.'s response, we turn to Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat Professor of Peace and Development at the University of Maryland; and Patrick Clawson, the Deputy Director of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.
Welcome, gentlemen. Professor Telhami, what do you make of this Iraqi offer?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: There's no question that it is related to their assessment of the prospects of war. Clearly it is related to the debate that started... was started here by Congress. I think a few weeks ago they were reluctant to cooperate in part because they were reading conventional wisdom in Washington, which was saying there will not be a war until after the election.
So therefore it was not particularly in their interest to try to cooperate with the U.N. and score points so early that they will not affect the deliberations on the issue of the war.
MARGARET WARNER: I'm sorry. Just let me interrupt you. What you're explaining is this spring there were some talks leading up to early July and you're saying that's why Iraq wasn't serious then but it might be more serious now.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I believe -- it's not a question of being more serious because I think the question about as whether this will be helpful for them to engage the U.N. or not helpful to them. If you're in their position, you have to assume that the administration wants regime change not just disarmament.
And if that is the case, then their assessment is there's likely to be a war no matter what they do. And therefore the real issue for them, I think right now, is how to create more hesitation. And they see that as the following issues: One is, it's not clear how much international support the U.S. will have. It's not clear for the U.S. what the cost of the war will be. It's not clear for the U.S. what the consequences will be.
And what they will try to do is to assess whether they're better off getting... scoring political points with the international community to make it more difficult politically on the U.S. or leaving uncertainty about their weapons of mass destruction so that could be a possible deterrent to an American attack.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you assess this offer?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Well, Shibley is quite right that the Iraqis are basically calculating how can they best stall the U.S. doing anything about Iraq's weapons of mass destruction? Saddam's record on inspections would make Robert Downey Jr. blush. This is a man who promised and promises and promises but then he never delivers.
And the great fear that we have about the talk of inspections is that we're going to get caught in a never-ending cycle of Iraqi promises and then later inaction which would postpone any kind of decisive measures to disarm Iraq of its weapons of mass destruction.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you agree with Professor Telhami's assessment that Saddam Hussein also thinks maybe that he's in a catch-22, that is, that he's damned if he does and damned if he doesn't? If he doesn't agree to inspections he risks attack but that even if he does agree to inspections the Bush Administration is likely to just use that information as a pretext for an attack: One, do you think that's what he's thinking and, two, is he right?
PATRICK CLAWSON: I don't think that Saddam has any intention whatsoever to give up his weapons of mass destruction so his calculations about inspections are entirely about how can he best hide these weapons of mass destruction and prevent the United States from going after them?
If we thought that Saddam might actually give up his weapons of mass destruction, then I think a fair number of people in the Bush Administration would say, oh, darned, and their attitude about regime change in Iraq would become rather like their attitude about regime change in Cuba. It's the announced U.S. goal but we won't necessarily use military force to that end.
The big difference with Iraq is that this is a guy who despite this whole series of U.N. resolutions for bidding him from having these weapons of mass destruction continues to pursue them even though he knows that if he gave them up, that could do a lot to disrupt any international coalition or domestic U.S. support from measures to overthrow him.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that Saddam Hussein is determined to persist with this program no matter what?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well there's no question that he would like that. The real issue is if he sees the trade-off between weapons of mass destruction and his survival there's no question in my mind what he will choose. This is a man who has chosen his survival over anything else - period.
And clearly at this point, he doesn't see that trade-off. So we haven't tested it in reality because, in fact, we have had the dual objectives. Now, I'm not suggesting this is maybe what we should do but what I'm saying it has to be clear. It has to be clear that, in fact, what we're offering him is political survival if that is what we want to do for disarmament.
I think this is the kind of choice that has not been put on the table for him because, frankly, we are very uncomfortable in and in fact when the inspectors were in there, it's been very clear that the U.S. has been very uncomfortable with the thought that this man could become politically strong by virtue of having some of the economic sanctions removed even if he cooperates with the U.N.
And so the real issue is whether there will be ever a trust of this man in this town no matter what he does. And therefore he has to be assessing, I think, that war is inevitable.
MARGARET WARNER: Do you think that the United States should make it clear... should make a clear offer, essentially, make it clear, that he could trade off his weapons in return for being able to survive?
PATRICK CLAWSON: I think the United States has actually done that back in 1991 and that's when Saddam said, "oh, okay, well I'll trade them off." Guess what? He didn't. This is a man who would accept that kind of an offer. Shibley is quite right. He would accept that kind of an offer and then he'd cheat.
The fact is that even if he gave up his production facilities for these weapons, he would still have the scientists with which could rebuild those facilities. He would still have the pesticide plants from which he can quickly convert to making chemical weapons. So that so long as he has the intention to use these weapons we've got a real problem.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Let me ask you both now just to parse for us what the U.N.'s response is here. You've seen both letters and Kofi Annan sent the letter today. It essentially said, as I understand it, to Iraq, "look, we're not even going to come and start talking about this if you don't agree to follow the Security Council procedures that have already been laid out for this." What is the point of dispute as you understand it between how Iraq wants to proceed and how the U.N. Security Council wants to proceed?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, the U.N. Security Council wants Iraq to implement the Security Council resolution. It does not want to negotiate these issues. I think that it is not very clear and certainly the secretary general's letter has not said we're not going to send him.
What they have said is we have to first let's talk, understand, that we're going to talk about the specifics of implementation as we have set them out. And clearly, what the secretary general is worried about is being used in this case and on the other hand he's also essentially at the mercy of the permanent members of the Security Council and especially the United States in terms of what their agenda is.
So clearly he doesn't want to play a game that he thinks is going to bring down the prestige of his office so he has to be a little clearer and he has to have the support of the permanent member Security Council for every step that he undertakes.
The real danger, however, is that the U.S. at the same time cannot be seen not to be cooperating and not giving a chance for a diplomatic solution to this issue.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you read the U.N.'s response?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Well, for seven years Saddam has insisted that these inspections have to come to an end very quickly and that the inspectors have to tell him how much more work they have to do and for seven years Saddam has been hiding things and then saying to the inspectors," oh, well, you haven't found anything recently and therefore you should end the process."
So that is the core dispute here. Saddam thinks this inspections... these inspections should end very quickly. The U.N. is saying first we've got to find out what you've got and then we'll see.
MARGARET WARNER: Isn't the U.N. saying, "and we have to get on the ground before we can decide on the scope of the work?"
PATRICK CLAWSON: Exactly.
MARGARET WARNER: Where as, Iraq is hoping they can get that all pre-cooked, pre-negotiated.
PATRICK CLAWSON: And, indeed, and as soon as the inspectors walk off the plane they can say here's what we have to do. Here's all the things that's necessary. The inspectors are saying, look, first we have to go around the country and see what's happened in the last four years.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Now, pick up on what Professor Telhami just raised about sort of the politics within the U.N. Security Council and what the U.S. position should be in terms of entertaining this offer at all.
PATRICK CLAWSON: What is so striking to me is how a number of countries which in the past have been sympathetic to the Iraqi case have not been proposing new resolutions, have not been circulating drafts, have not been agitating for some kind of action on this issue precisely because they're concerned that if a Security Council were to take a new action, it would have to say Iraq's got to comply with the past resolutions.
Since they know that Saddam is not very likely to comply with the past resolutions, they're afraid that such a new resolution would in effect give authority to the United States to use force against Iraq and they're scared of doing that.
MARGARET WARNER: So is essentially the United States calling the shots here? Is that what this letter from Kofi Annan reflects?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I think there's clearly a lot of American influence but frankly I don't think that the U.S. is dictating to the secretary general. It's the secretary general is playing a role.
Obviously he represents the permanent members of the Security Council. The U.S. is the most central... has been the most central player on this issue and at the same time he has to be responsive to the others but I think Patrick is right about one thing is this issue which is that most of the members, almost everybody else including the permanent members other than the U.S., are very concerned about the war option.
And clearly anyway, they are making it clear to Iraq that the only way to stave that off is if there is a more effective cooperation than they have seen, and even that is not certain to stave off the war.
MARGARET WARNER: So how do you think Saddam Hussein will respond to this essentially fairly tough answer from the Security Council? Do you think he's going to say, "well, if those are the conditions, then we'll agree"?
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: I think he will. The real question is the timing. I think it's very much about timing because he wants to score his points at the right time and clearly he doesn't want to seem to be capitulating or giving in or gaining favors with the U.N. before it's going to have an impact on the American debate or on the decision to go to war. So clearly that is going to be a key factor.
MARGARET WARNER: How do you think he'll respond?
PATRICK CLAWSON: Saddam is going to wait until he thinks that we're right on the edge of war and then he's going to try to forestall action. Shibley's got it exactly right. It's all about timing. Saddam is not interested in cooperating with the U.N.; he's just interested in forestalling action against him.
MARGARET WARNER: And within the Bush Administration what's your understanding about whether... do you think there's division over whether the U.S. should support... let's say there is the option of going in on inspections? Is there division on that point?
PATRICK CLAWSON: I think there's a lively debate with some people in the administration quite concerned that we could get caught in a cycle of Iraqi promises -- and debate only about the inspections issue and not about how to get rid of Iraq's WMD.
MARGARET WARNER: Is that the defense department's view?
PATRICK CLAWSON: I would say in fact you'd find a fair number of people in the arms community who have been so burned by their experiences with Iraq that they agree with that. There's other people who say that there's a lot to be gained in world public opinion by going that extra mile to remind people that Saddam is the one who is not living up to his obligations.
SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, you know, if you look at it, obviously there are divisions. I mean it's clear they have been projected even within the Defense Department particularly among the generals and between the generals and the political appointees.
But I think ultimately the real issue I think is the about the cost, about the consequences and about the planning. And those issues are huge because they are the ones that are ultimately going to determine the decision.
MARGARET WARNER: All right. Shibley Telhami and Patrick Clawson, thank you both.